Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Homemade/Homegrown Peach Preserves


 
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Have I ever told you about my peach tree? When we first moved into our country home, there was this hideous tree in the back yard. We moved in the winter, and the tree was grey and gnarled looking. I was convinced it was dead (no one had lived in the house for over 2 years), and it was an eye sore. Well, needless to say, removing the ugly tree was the last thing on our "to do" list. The renovations on the inside of the home, like getting running water, and working toilets, were more important. So, the tree sat there. When the spring came, it started to bloom. I was shocked!
   I couldn't believe that this ugly old tree had pretty little pink flowers all over it. I still thought it wasn't worth much, but at least it looked a little better in the spring time. Spring turned to summer, and the tree started getting little fruits. My intuitive husband said that they were peaches, and part of me got a little excited. (My parents have a couple peach trees, and it has always been one of my summer time treats to get fresh peaches off the trees.) Well, the squirrels ate every last peach. All of them! They didn't even wait for them to get big and ripen. They just scurried their little furry bodies up the tree, put a green little peach in their mouths and then ran for the hills (literally). So, we had no peaches. And when winter came again, the tree was once again an eye sore. At least this time I knew something better was coming.
    The spring came, and the pink blossoms returned. Summer came.  The blossoms turned to peaches, and my hubby turned into a squirrel hunter. He would frequently camp out by the tree with his pellet gun and shoot any squirrels that tried to come near. It must have worked because the peaches remained, and grew, and eventually ripened. Unfortunately, us not knowing anything about how to thin out a large peach tree, the tree became too heavy laden with peaches and two of the branches broke. :( I had an immediate need to use A TON of peaches. Whether they were the ripest or not, I didn't want them to go to waste.
   My first thought - "jam."
   We are a real fruit preserves/jam kind of family. Are you? I can't remember the last time we bought some from the store. We usually have some on hand from family and friends. I even whipped up a couple batches last year of some peach and strawberry jam and some blueberry preserves. We love to eat jam on English muffins - or my English Muffin Bread. This year, it was a no-brainer what kind of preserves I would be making - Peach!

The longest part of making peach preserves is peeling them. The peel is perfectly fine to eat, but I find it too fibrous and "hairy" to leave in the jam. I'll show you the recommended way of peeling peaches, but honestly if you want to just start cutting off the skin with a paring knife be my guest (that's what I do most of the time, but you lose more fruit this way).

First step: Bring a large pot of water to boil, and cut an "X" in the bottom of all the peaches.

Gently drop the peaches into the boiling water, a few at a time. Boil them for a minute or so,

and then take them out. You should really put them into an ice bath at this point, but I was doing this literally at midnight and I didn't want to fuss with it. If you have the time and dishes to do so, an ice bath really is the way to go. it will help the peels come off easier. Also, the more ripe the peaches are, the easier they peel. As you can see, these aren't the most ripe specimens, but it worked out alright.

When the peaches are cool enough to handle, the peels should just come right off. Some people use a paper towel to rub off the skins, but I just peel them back with my fingers.

When all the peaches are peeled, they will need to be cut in half.
 Just follow the natural seam on the outside.

After they are cut in half, just remove the pits. (This is only possible if you have free-stone peaches. If you have cling-stone peaches, you will just need to cut the peach slices away from the pit. It makes a huge mess and the slices won't be pretty, but it will all eventually be cooked to mush anyway.)
 

The halves get cut into dices - the smaller the better. (Sorry the pictures are so dark. I told you it was the middle of the night.) 

The 4 quarts of diced peaches are put into the largest pot you have (I use my spaghetti pot), along with 3/4 cup lemon juice.

Next comes the sugar. Now, I know this looks like a lot, but this isn't even close to as much as the recipe in the pectin box said to use. It states that for every 4 CUPS of peaches, you should use 7 1/2 cups of sugar! That's just ridiculous! That's not jam, that's peach flavored sugar syrup! So, I changed it - of course. Like I change most recipes. I should note, however, that my preserves don't set up hard like some jams do. It is by no means runny either. It has a peasant, substantial spreadable texture (as you can see from the first photo above).
With that being said, I added 8 cups of sugar to my 4 QUARTZ of peaches.

The peaches, sugar and lemon juice are put over high heat until they come up to a boil. I stirred them occasionally.

When the mixture comes up to a boil, I turned the heat down to medium low (just enough heat to keep it simmering), and scraped off any foam that rose to the top. (Some people add butter to their jams to reduce the amount of foam, but I didn't want the extra calories, so I skipped it. Skimming the top works just fine.)

After the peaches are all cooked, and the foam doesn't rise up any more, this is where most recipes would tell you to add the pectin. Well, I didn't want chunky peaches with sugary syrup - I wanted one homogeneous mixture. My solution? . . .

My stick blender. :) I love this thing!

I pureed most of the peaches, but not all. I like a little texture in the final product. If you like yours completely smooth, then by all means blend away!

When the texture was the way I wanted it, and the mixture was bubbling again, I added 2 packages of liquid pectin. This needs to boil for 1 minute more, stirring constantly.

I should have mentioned earlier, that I had another pot on the stove with boiling water, to sanitize my lids, jar remover (I also call this a jar holder/lifter), funnel, tongs (pictured later) and ladle (also pictured later). I also ran my jars, rings and a butter knife through the dishwasher on "sanitize," which is my hottest setting, to get them ready.

I removed the jars from the dishwasher and lined them up on the counter. I like to do this on a towel, because I feel like they have more stability and it is easy clean up for later when I inevitably drip some jam in between the jars.

When I removed the funnel and jar holder, I put in my tongs and ladle to sanitize. It only needs a couple minutes in the boiling water - you don't want to melt anything.

When everything is ready to go, it's time to start filling. I put the funnel on the jars and then use the ladle to fill the jars - making sure to leave 1/4 inch head space. Make sure you're jars are at least warm still. You don't want to put hot jam into cold jars. They will break and this will all be for naught.

Then I use a clean paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars (only the outside, not the inside).

Now, we're almost done, stay with me. Next I used a knife - that I also sanitized in the dishwasher - to get out any air bubbles. (If you get any on the outside of the jars, you'll need to clean them off again.

Next come the lids. I use the tongs (that I sanitized earlier) to fish out the jar lids, one at a time.

I shake off any excess water, and then carefully place the lids on the jars.

Next come the rings. (These I also sanitized in the dishwasher with the jars.) They get screwed onto the jars. You don't need to worry about them being super tight right now. Just turn them as much as you can just using your fingers. This is called "finger tight."

When all the rings are snug, I used my jar holder to place the filled jars into the pot of boiling water.

You want enough boiling water to cover the jars by 1 to 2 inches. The lid goes on, and they boil for 10 minutes. (I had to do 3 batches.)

When 10 minutes is up, the jars come back out,

and set back on the towel to cool. They need to be left alone, completely undisturbed, for 24 hours. You should start to hear the "pop" of the lids sealing almost immediately.

This big batch made 12 8 oz jars and 4 16 oz jars. This picture makes me feel accomplished. :)

You can use them the next day (or even keep some unsealed in the fridge for immediate use).

This is a wonderful preserve that is great for spreading on breads, baking in desserts, or even topping ice cream. Feel free to give some away - a very impressive gift if I do say so myself.
Here's the recipe:

Homemade Peach Preserves

4 quarts peeled and diced peaches (maybe 20 peaches?)
3/4 cups lemon juice
8 cups sugar
2 packages Ball Liquid Pectin

     Sanitize enough jars, lids and rings to jar 160 oz of preserves (I did 12 8 oz jars, and 4 16 oz jars).  Also sanitize 1 ladle, a pair of tongs, 1 jar holder/lifter, 1 butter knife, and a canning funnel. All these can be done in the dishwasher, except the lids and anything that's plastic. They should be boiled in a large pot of water on the stove for a couple minutes to kill any germs. Do this while your preserves are cooking. You will use the pot and boiling water to boil your finished preserves at the end.
      In the largest pot you have, add the 4 quarts of diced peaches, lemon juice and sugar. Stir to combine and cook over medium high heat until boiling. When it starts to boil, turn the heat down to medium low. Stir occasionally and skim the top of any foam.
      Line up all the jars, funnel, ladle and jar holder/lifer, so you are ready to go.
When the peaches are soft, and the mixture can not be stirred down (it continues to boil even when you stir), puree the mixture using a stick blender. Puree until mostly smooth. Add the pectin and  boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Turn the heat off.
      Using the funnel and ladle, fill the jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space on top. Poke a knife down into each filled jar, just to make sure there are no bubbles. Wipe down the tops and outside of the jars with a clean paper towel. Using tongs, remove the lids from the hot water (that you are sanitizing them in). Gently shake off any excess water and place one lid on each jar, being careful not to touch the seal. Screw on the rings until "finger tight." 
     Place the jars, in batches, into the boiling water (that you have from sanitizing the lids earlier), making sure that the hot water covers the jars by at least 1 to 2 inches. Put the lid on the pot and boil for 10 minutes. When the 10 minutes are up, use the jar holder/lifter to remove the hot jars and place on the counter, in a place where they will be undisturbed for 24 hours. You should start hearing the "pop" of the lids sealing almost immediately. After 24 hours, they can be labeled stored for up to a year. (Pectin disclaimer: "They may take up to 2 weeks to set.")

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